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Gayyash Al 'Aatifa

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Venomous Beggary

I was stopped at a red light at around ten in the evening, where Kasr el Nil ends at Tahrir. I threw my mobile onto the passenger seat, repeating to myself the words of a text message I'd just received. The message was critical and I had to word my response carefully but wasn't in the mood to do so. I hurriedly connected my music player and rushed to the song I wanted, only to get a 'battery empty' message and then a dim grey screen. A woman walked up to my window, young and slim and dressed in black with a baby slumped over her shoulder and a pack of tissues bobbing in her hand. "Allah ysahhel-lak, sa3edna b2ay 7aga," she said, in that wobbly imploring tone so popular with the career types, career beggars, that is. (God help you, spare us something.) I turned to her with a quick "shokran, Rabbena ysahhel-lik," (thank you, may God ease things for you) and looked back at the blank music screen, trying to remember whether the charger was in the trunk or in my laptop bag at home. "Ay 7aga tayeb," she said (anything). I responded "shokran," and returned to thoughts about the wire, between which I glanced in my mind at a draft reply to the text message. "We7yat ommak hat 7aga," (by/for your mother's life give us something.) It worked, her words turned my stomach and hurt me. I had, in effect, given her my deaf ear, as we say, and she slapped me on it. She didn't say it like the vulgar figure of speech that it is, she spoke like she meant the words themselves. Your mother, this is for your mother, your mother's life. I turned to see her face, to taste and ingest it with my eyes, to furnish my anger with a figure on which to hang its hooks, and to ease for myself the task of forgiveness. But I know that this was my violence. I looked her in the eyes and she knew what she'd done. Her walleyed stare was not that of someone still expecting money. It was the look of a person who'd just beaten a provoker to the ground in an uncontrolled fit of rage. 'I can make you listen,' she must have thought. She had deserved no more than what I gave her and for that I curse the feeling of irked entitlement that drove her jab. But who knows, I might have been the last straw, and it could be that she'd thought to herself 'damn you and your pathetic little world'.

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